Where Do You Start? Teaching Direct Marketing to College Students

What’s the best approach to engage college kids in understanding direct marketing? Principles first; metrics second? Or Metrics first; principles second?

What’s the best approach to engage college kids in understanding direct marketing? Principles first; metrics second? Or Metrics first; principles second?

I remember sitting in the parlor of a Catholic parish rectory in North Jersey while my wife was participating in a wedding rehearsal. The Mets game was on TV. The brother of a parish priest who was visiting from Ireland asked me to explain baseball. Explain baseball?!?! Where do you start?

Despite all of the professional speaking and training I’ve done in direct response marketing, the first time I taught a college course devoted entirely to it was last spring. I started with the fundamental concepts of media, offer, and creative. I had them write about each of these concepts from their own experience. We went over the various targeting opportunities marketers have online and offline. And at the end, we covered measurement and metrics.

At the end of the course, I asked the students to tell me what worked, what didn’t, and what should be changed. The most insightful comment was from a student who said:

“I wish you had covered all that measurement content at the beginning of the course. It made me realize why all that other stuff was important, and how it fit into the big picture.”

HELP!

Now, as I embark on teaching a course dedicated to Direct Response Marketing at Rutgers School of Business Camden, I’m looking for advice about how to sequence things.

Last year, when I bemoaned the lack of an appropriate up-to-date textbook for this discipline in this column, Dave Marold and Harvey  Markowitz stepped up and recommended the Fourth Edition of “Direct, Digital, and Data-Driven Marketing,” by Lisa Spiller. (Thanks for that Dave and Harvey; I’m using that book in the Fall).

What Do You Think?

Now I see the benefit of stressing measurement early. Even though I told the students every class that the coolest thing about direct marketing is that you can measure it, apparently the mechanical reality of measuring something like search engine keywords was not real for them. So:

  • Do I incorporate some form of measurement into every lesson?
  • Do I introduce a comprehensive measurement unit early in the course? (Spiller’s book does that early on, in Chapter 4).
  • Or, do I go full-on “math course” at the beginning, and thin a 40-student class down to 20 students after two weeks? (Just kidding).

Opinions welcome. (Actually, encouraged.)

Nostalgic for the Future: Data That is ‘Close to You’

Last week, I had a dream — and in it, Karen Carpenter and I were friends. The following night, I had a similar dream — and this time it was Carly Simon. I literally went to bed the next night hoping for a Roberta Flack visitation.

Last week, I had a dream and in it, Karen Carpenter and I were friends. The following night, I had a similar dream and this time it was Carly Simon. I literally went to bed the next night hoping for a Roberta Flack visitation. As a result of these slumbering vocalists and songwriters, I’ve spent a good part of my leisure time over the New Year holiday listening to all their songs on my iPod. It’s yesterday, once more.

Who knows why we dream what we dream?

Sometimes, it just happens that when we’ve experienced enough in life, in play, in work some situations are bound to come around again, next week or decades later. I mean, I owned all that vinyl way back then and now I can stream it all again.

Greatest Hits: Lifecycles of Data-Inspired Marketing

So when Marc Pritchard of Procter & Gamble last week at the Consumer Electronics Show talked about “a world without ads,” I said to myself “oh, I’ve heard this song before.” And he’s right to say it.

In the world of data and direct marketing, a quest for wholly efficient advertising and a mythical 100-percent response rate actually is a 100-year science. Thank you, visionaries, such as Claude Hopkins.

• The 19th Century shopkeeper knew each customer, and conversed regularly. Ideally, each customer’s wants and desires were noted and needs anticipated to the extent that the customer was fulfilled accordingly. (Aaron Montgomery Ward and Richard Warren Sears.)
• Direct marketing originally through print, catalogs and mail, and then broadcast sought to replicate this model remotely. Measurement, attribution and response were put to science. Creativity served the science, or science served the creativity in either direction. Segmentation, analytics and differentiated communication flowed. (David Ogilvy, Stan Rapp and Alvin Eicoff, among others).
• In digital, social and mobile, direct marketing is rejuvenated this time “data-driven marketing.” Some have described this as data-inspired storytelling, or direct marketing on steroids. How responsible data collection can be used to identify prospect needs and wants, and funnel tailored communication through to sale, service and repeat purchase. (Jeff Bezos, among others.)
• And now the product itself can be designed to communicate to the customer smart appliances, smart cars, and the parts and products inside, with sensors and Internet connections and mobile app interfaces all being able to let the user know, it’s time for consideration or some other product lifecycle action.

Post-Advertising: A Reverence for Data

In all these examples, the constant is “I want to know you, so I can serve you the customer” and the facilitator is data. We exist to create and serve a customer. Period. Anything less is not sustainable. Data, in these models, is sought, analyzed and revered. It is also transparent, and its use and application has consumer buy-in. That premise is as true now in the Internet age, as it was in the direct response era before it. We all need to excel in data reverence, first, and then data analysis and application.

Advertising does have a role here, of course. Not every product sells itself and not every product meets customer satisfaction fully. The best advertising, and even the best data behind it, cannot save a bad product. There is always a need for advertising and marketing to inform the consumer, and a brand promise that serves to attract and retain beyond the product.

Every generation has its pop heroes. Tonight, I may just dream of Adele.

Direct Marketing Agency Triumphs Over ‘Mad Men’

“Wonder Who?” was not an unusual “Mad Men” reaction in 1960s when direct marketing agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, already at the top of the direct mail and mail order agency league table, might be mentioned in a social or business conversation. “What do they do?” was the usual semi-curious follow-up, if there was one.

“Wonder Who?” was not an unusual “Mad Men” reaction in 1960s when direct marketing agency Wunderman, Ricotta & Kline, already at the top of the direct mail and mail order agency league table, might be mentioned in a social or business conversation. “What do they do?” was the usual semi-curious follow-up, if there was one.

In the sacred haunts of ad men (there were precious few women, but more on that later), the direct and data-driven marketing discipline just didn’t have the sex appeal that came with real advertising; especially real advertising that could be seen on television and bragged about over cocktails. It was an exciting world, where 30 seconds of peer-acclaimed, but unaccountable, genius had far more value than judgments based on the measurable and accountable return on marketing investment.

That we now live in a very different world could not be better illustrated than by the recent announcement that WPP has folded 150-year-old J. Walter Thompson, the citadel of “brand” advertising, into Wunderman, described by Adweek as “the first direct marketing agency” and “the darling of WPP.” The result will be Wunderman Thompson, with 20,000 people across 90 markets.

Wrote Avi Dean in Forbes: 

“This comes a couple of months after digital agency VML merged with traditional agency Y&R to form VMLY&R. While these are positioned as mergers of equals, they are essentially a takeover by the digital agencies of their older siblings.

“JWT’s demise is a metaphor of the demise of Madison Avenue.”

The ironies are too numerous to mention.

There must, incidentally, have been a compelling reason for the WPP management’s recent pairing of VML with Y&R to form VMLY&R. Could it have been that folding Y&R into Wunderman after Wunderman had been previously folded into Y&R might have been too much even for the traditional “Mad Men” to stomach?

The “demise of Madison Avenue” can be traced directly to the cultural clash between traditional agencies and their owners who looked down their noses at “mail order” and what became data-driven direct marketing. From the earliest days of the agency, its founder, Lester Wunderman, while optimistic, maintained a healthy skepticism about whether the chasm between these two cultures could truly be breached, given the opportunistic motivation driving most “mergers” of the disciplines.

In the early 1970s, when general agencies realized they needed to be seen to embrace direct marketing, Wunderman was acquired by Young & Rubicam. The embrace, however, spun to clients and the marketing world, was less driven by passion and an honest and sensitive understanding of the changes that were impacting the market than giving clients some comfort if, God forbid, they wanted some DM advice or service. There was — and to a lesser extent, still is — a historical incompatibility of two cultural systems.

The traditionalists mostly considered DM practitioners, if not second-class citizens, not to be the folk you would want to bring to a top client meeting — unless you had to. For those of us who experienced the “had to,” how the “essential” half-hour direct marketing portion of the big client presentation got reduced to 15 minutes and then to five (if there was still time before the client left to catch his plane), however demeaning, made our subsidiary status perfectly clear.

When Wunderman proclaimed that “Data is an expense. Knowledge is a bargain,” most of the traditional advertising world nodded their heads but didn’t quite get the “knowledge” part, or see how it would impact the future of every aspect of marketing. Writing about this future in the last chapter of his 1996 book, “Being Direct: Making Advertising Pay,” Wunderman said:

“The way of creating effective combinations of price and service is by creating knowledge-based direct channels between manufacturers and consumers, in which the media becomes the marketplace. The Industrial Revolution created the practice of branding, but in the Information Age, brand images increasingly provide only a thin shield against competition.”

The ever-expanding “knowledge” of the consumer and the market, made possible by the handling of data and of the accountable value of every advertising spend, are the forces that have propelled CMOs, as described by Avi Dean, to “care less about agency labels than ever before. They care about effectiveness and results.” So it’s hardly surprising that what we might call the “accountable” culture — making advertising pay — has overtaken the “image” culture. Or so it seems.

Because direct marketing had long been “down-market,” to quote an oft-used phrase, it attracted a disproportionate number of very talented women — many of whom knew they would never make it in the testosterone-dominated “advertising business.” Ironically, that’s all changed, as well, and two women have been appointed as “Chairman” (Chairperson? Chairwoman?) and CEO of Wunderman Thomson.

Some veterans of this culture war still insist that “brand” and “accountability” are, if not incompatible, not happily married, either. They mourn the loss of JWT and fear for the clients.

Quoted in the UK’s Campaign, Rosalind Gravatt, former director of communications, Lloyds Banking Group, said:

“I believe that the JWT brand name could have evolved and still has huge cachet (particularly among blue chip clients) in a way that the Wunderman name never will.”

Lindsey Clay, CEO of Thinkbox, was more emotional:

“It feels to me like someone I care about has died … I just hope that the brand guardianship and culture-defining creativity, which were central to the JWT ethos, live on beyond the name.

The loyalty to JWT is admirable, but the premise that brands will lose cachet and suffer when tainted by the Wunderman name and/or accountability, is a remnant of another age.

“Wonder Who?” is a question that isn’t asked anymore. What goes around comes around.

[Author’s Note: As the founder and first CEO of Wunderman Worldwide, the international arm of the original Wunderman company, and after the Y&R merger, the Wunderman member of the Y&R International Board, I’ve been privileged to have had a unique, if slightly prejudiced, view of the changes described above.]

6 Strategies for Medicare AEP Marketing Success

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy, beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

The leaves have changed into radiant hues and have begun to drop, football season is in full swing, and we’re already deep into Fall. Over dozens of Medicare Marketing AEP seasons, healthcare marketers have come to view Fall from a different lens. And now we’re in the middle of the Medicare Annual Election Period.

What makes for a successful AEP goes beyond strategy,  beyond creative and goes beyond media. It delves deep into an effective team, working well together. Collaboration toward a common goal doesn’t happen by accident.

In our experience, working with many clients, AEP success comes from a combination of at least six dynamics. Simply stated:

1.) Planning — There. I said it. While this may sound basic, every year as the Medicare Marketing landscape changes, it slows down even the fastest among us. Time and again we’ve seen how rallying EARLY around the metrics you’ve achieved for the AEP and marrying them with strategic trends in the market can be crucial to success. Why?

After the planning comes the real work. Timing is everything is a cliché for good reason. So much happens early in the season. We know that Medicare beneficiaries who are open to switching made up their minds months ago that would do so. And as of Oct. 1, they were flush with opportunities to do so. Backing into that timing and making “early” your priority is easier than it sounds. But you can do it.

2.) Collaboration — Boiled down, direct marketing equals sales! When AEP sales and marketing teams work closely together, fireworks can happen. Information sharing is a two-way street.

Based on their first-hand knowledge of the competitive landscape, sales teams have a unique perspective that can benefit creative. Face it, when themes persist in their work on the front line — they translate well into messaging.

The same cohesion is required to ensure that sales makes the most out of the opportunities that are generated by your marketing team. Sharing information early and often with materials and other resource will help to prepare the call center for the work you’ve invested so much in.

3.) Reporting — Determining what metrics matter for your AEP is the first step. Then put in the plan to make sure you can do it. In all of our years of AEP campaigns, I can confidently say that this can happen. But also, that it doesn’t always happen by flipping a switch. Be sure to ask for what you want while there is still time to figure it out!

4.) Optimization — CMS rules and timing don’t really allow much in the way of creative flexibility “on the fly”. But once you are underway there is still much magic to be spun through optimization. Regular analysis of your media  and a mechanism for acting on it can make or break your performance. Don’t just “set it and forget it”.

5.) Embrace the Details — As I read this blog and compare it with the hard work of the season it makes me realize that so often success is in the details. The every single day details that we chase down to get right.

6.) Partnership — Partnering with the right agency can make all the difference. Look for follow-through. Look for energy. Look for experts!

Finally, remember that your goals are not met by AEP alone. Let’s get busy on making the most of the rest of the year.

Denny Hatch Takes on a Direct Brand With Direct Marketing

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Harry’s is what’s now classified as a direct brand. But is traditional direct marketing more powerful? Politically correct or not, “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings” reminds us that the piece we write today may be chuck full of insight and wisdom now, but demands a fresh new look only a few milestones down the road.

Denny Hatch’s name should not be an unfamiliar one here. Former Target Marketing editor, blogger and general gadfly, Hatch retains the mantle of data-driven marketing’s provocateur, par excellence, now sadly deprived of his joy at being able to limit his writings to twice the number of characters of the original Twitter. His new marketing blog is full of good stuff.

For his recent 700-character, “Getting Your Prospects to Say ‘Yes’ ” piece, he has turned his sights on Harry’s, the upstart direct-to-consumer razor company featured in this Maverick space almost a year ago. At that time I asked you, our readers:

Will the powerful copy and offer, the Harry’s against Goliath approach, go viral or sufficiently viral to extend the reach of the promotion well beyond the media that has been paid for? Will it bring the cost of trials and conversions down low enough to be “affordable,” attracting customers whose loyalty generates sufficient lifetime value to amortize the total marketing costs over that lifetime and let Harry’s end up with more than a sustainable profit?

direct brand Harry's
Credit: Peter J. Rosenwald

Although headlined, “Make Your Bet on Harry’s or Goliath,” readers were only asked whether they believed that the soft, brand-focused approach would be enough to build a loyal and profitable client base. This direct brand ad and similar treatments break all of the DM101 rules and, because they keep appearing, either they are driving a satisfactory response or, sooner or later, the remains of Harry will be marketing history.

The Denny Hatch traditional direct marketing answer to the “will you bet your money on Harry?” question is a snarling “no.” And he is willing to put his “cheek” (so to speak) where his money is, by offering Harry’s a Denny original, an ad designed to test the “on your face” Free Trial offer against the company’s editorial lede with the same Free Trial offer.

Hatch’s proposed direct marketing ad, seen here, is a classic old school mail-order: “FREE,” “GUARANTEED,” “No Cost,” “No Risk,” “No Obligation.” The call to action couldn’t be improved: “CLICK HERE FOR NO-RISK FREE TRIAL.” And the copy appears to be signed-off by a real person. It’s got everything.

direct brand vs. direct marketing ad
Credit: Denny Hatch’s Marketing Blog by Denny Hatch

But is “everything” what moves today’s consumer, or is the intriguing narrative about changing a $13 billion industry better attuned to today’s sensibilities? Problem is: Will we ever know the results? At this writing, Harry’s soft-focus direct brand ads are everywhere I seem to go on the web.

If Harry’s would run a valid split test of Hatch’s direct marketing ad against one of its regular ads, we would know which one had the better clickthrough. And if we waited long enough, we would know which would have the better lifetime value. (A parenthetical aside: The trouble with measuring lifetime value is that, theoretically, you have to wait until everyone is dead. That’s likely to be longer than you care to wait.) Hopefully, we’ll be able to get some data in this case and share it with you sometime in the future.

When there is more to come, journalists advise you to “watch this space”!

Why Direct Mail Is the Rodney Dangerfield of Media

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot.

If you’re in control of marketing and you’ve ignored the direct mail channel — you may be making a mistake. Easy to dismiss, for its role as a dinosaur — direct mail is the Rodney Dangerfield of media. I’ll admit that’s an almost extinct reference — but the comedian’s famous “I don’t get respect” act truly fits here. Great direct mail campaigns lead to big time sales — which — ultimately yield respect. Years ago, after starting a career in advertising, I fell in love with direct mail for the oh-so gratifying value of measurement. Now with so many options for measurable media, that tangible benefit is no longer limited to the mail.

Somewhere along the line though, gradually people began to doubt the power of the direct mail channel. Smart people. For well over a decade we have had doubters question and condescend about the dinosaur that is mail.

It’s easy to see why. After all, do people really read their mail anymore? And the cost per impression is high.

Get ready to be surprised.

And yet, like the famed Energizer Bunny, the mail channel keeps performing. For most of our clients, their direct mail program reliably brings in more leads than any other single channel. By a lot. In all of our Medicare Marketing work, the direct mail reliably drives more members and responses than any other channel. The list goes on.

There was a time that no one thought using offline media to drive online results made sense. Think again.

In fact I’d say, the best way to think about direct mail is as a sales channel. You can identify your target universe and work back from the point of sale to determine the metrics. A true cohesion among sales and marketing teams.

It’s not old news. And it’s not the only news. The really exciting part is that your mail performance can and will be enhanced by other channels

Here are some rules for determining how and when to use direct mail as part of your marketing mix:

  1. Do the math — Whether it be on the back-of-a-napkin, or via a comprehensive pro-forma spreadsheet, finding out in advance whether you can afford the cost of a direct mail lead is the best first step. At our agency, our teams are trained in direct mail math – those basics are “job one”!
  2. Start with a test — If you walk around the office showing people your mail, I can already tell you how that will go. Pretty much no one will like what could turn out to be the best performing direct mail package. Nothing beats the value of “in-market” testing.
  3. Feature an offer — An offer is something that goes above and beyond the product features. While an offer is not mandatory, it really helps.
  4. Hire an agency — This is a deceivingly detailed business. Any agency that has been in business for a number of years (with a specialty of direct mail) has faced problems. Lots of obstacles big and small that you’d rather avoid. But, beyond the value of smooth-sailing, you’ll likely get a better performing piece from a group that lives and breathes direct mail best practices. I promise it will be more than worth it.
  5. Hire a proofer — See No. 4. This is an area where you’d rather not make a mistake. It’s expensive.

Experienced direct response (and also sales) professionals honor the channel that is direct, because it’s proven itself as a valued part of the plan.

Once it works for you, you too will find yourself committed to the mail. Even if, like me, you never check your own mailbox!

3 DRTV Testing Tips for Digital Marketers

Lately, I have been talking to several marketers that want to test direct response television advertising for their brands. Interestingly, these companies that want to test DRTV are category disruptors, born from the Internet. These are companies founded on direct relationships with consumers established through search engines and social media.

DRTVLately, I have been talking to several marketers that want to test direct response television advertising for their brands. Interestingly, these companies that want to test DRTV are category disruptors, born from the Internet. These are companies founded on direct relationships with consumers established through search engines and social media.

The reasons to complement data-driven digital marketing with television are convincing. These internet brands are faced with many challengers in the same space. It is difficult to establish a unique brand position through search. Television remains the most powerful medium for quickly communicating a message and establishing an identity.

More importantly, marketers are finding that building companies one-click at a time is not achieving their goals for growth. Nielsen reports the average American still watches 5 hours a day. With that large an audience television can quickly scale the reach needed to grow businesses.

Most companies are concerned with the high-entry costs for television and not getting the instant ROI expected from digital channels. That’s what makes the more accountable DRTV so compelling. The opportunity to lower media costs with the assumption that the spots will generate response.

These expectations for DRTV might be misunderstood and a little high. One of the companies that I spoke with did a test of television (on their own and not with my direction). They ended up canceling after 2-weeks because of cost and perceived lack of performance.

Before testing television’s impact on response and acquisition, ensure your test is set-up to deliver effective and measurable results. A poor test could result in mistakenly dismissing a potentially valuable channel for marketing.

Here are a few tips for an effective test:

Tip #1 – Utilize Television to Its Strength – Reach

Television is a mass medium and is most efficient when used to reach a mass audience.

Digital marketers might believe that an impression delivered to a non-targeted prospect is useless and a wasted expense.  Restricting reach to select areas using cable or specific homes through addressable OTT may seem to solutions for waste. However, these options reduce consumer reach while increasing media costs, impairing the benefits of television, efficiency and scale.

With your initial television test, utilize the networks, stations, and dayparts that best reach your target audience.  If the results are good, you can start looking for ways to optimize your buy to drive more efficiency. If the television doesn’t drive results, at least you don’t need to second guess your media execution.

When putting together a test with the right stations and dayparts, be less concerned about Reach, Frequency, and GRPs.  Those are metrics to predict the effectiveness of a traditional television buy. If you are testing DRTV with the intent of generating response, results should be the measure of effectiveness.  Do look for deals as a lower cost per spot should contribute to a lower cost per response.

Tip #2 – Track All Results!

My preferred method for tracking the performance of a DRTV test are dedicated phone numbers assigned to each station.  With time-stamped, phone number data it is possible to identify the best stations and dayparts for driving results.

However, a digital disruptor may not be set-up for phone calls. They will likely want to drive response to its online sales-funnel.  Spot airing times and web-traffic data can be aligned to measure direct response to the ads. Establish site traffic baselines before spots begin airing to quantify traffic lift in response to television.

When tracking all results, also look for lift in response rates to other channels. Unlike other mediums, the awareness created by television is likely to increase response in other channels.

Quantifying the impact television can have on other channels can be done with the classic tactic of Control versus Treated. By holding out a market from a recent program, I had comparison data to quantify the lift DRTV had on other channels. The test showed a 25% increase to the direct mail response and a 50% lift in the search clickthrough rate.

If a control hold-out isn’t possible, compare response rates from pre and post television advertising. The lift in response rates can be enough to support using television as a compliment to other direct channels.

Tip #3 – Give DRTV Testing Some Time

Testing television for the first time is big decision.  It requires company buy-in and investments of time on money to develop a spot and get it on television. The desire to show immediate success is great, however, it is a test. Results can take time to develop.

It can take a couple of weeks for a brand with limited awareness to connect with consumers.

Two-weeks of frequency may be needed to build enough interest to elicit a response. It can take longer depending on your DRTV schedule.

If results are limited after two-weeks consider adjusting the television schedule to test different programming.

At 4-weeks you should have quantified results, either direct response to the television or response lift in other channels. With results you can begin assessing the opportunities for expanding the program.

If the results are not seen in 4-weeks, then it might be time to suspend the program. As direct marketers know, more spending isn’t likely to improve ROI.

Because the initial test didn’t produce the desired results does not mean that television cannot work for your brand. Go back and reconsider all elements of the program including the spot, the offers, and the media buy.

Thank You, Arthur Blumenfield, Joyful Storyteller

This past week, we bid farewell to a gentleman and a marketing pioneer, Arthur Blumenfield. For those of us in the New York marketing community, who revere data and data-driven marketing and media — as well as the camaraderie of our community — Arthur truly was a leading light.

This past week, we bid farewell to a gentleman and a marketing pioneer, Arthur Blumenfield.

For those of us in the New York marketing community, who revere data and data-driven marketing and media — as well as the camaraderie of our community — Arthur truly was a leading light.

Arthur was full of stories, and he was a masterful storyteller. He was also joyful, and one couldn’t help feeling the warmth when you were with him. One of my favorite stories was a visit he had taken to Jerusalem, where the locals told him to get a room at the Yimcah Hotel. Up and down he rode the bus route, having to remind the forgetful bus driver a couple of times to drop him off at the stop nearest to the hotel. Peeling his eyes along the route, looking for the hotel — back and forth, as other riders jumped in to say the bus had passed the hotel. Really? Finally, when he actually had the correct stop, he exited the bus and wandered about, finally discovering the Yimcah Hotel, otherwise known as the Y-M-C-A.

That was it, you never knew if it was urban lore — or a true experience. But it really didn’t matter, it was Arthur sharing a tale, and earning a laugh.

He loved his regular OGLE meetings — Old Guys Lunch Experience. Last summer, I received a coveted invitation.  And Arthur truly had a plan for inviting me there. There were plenty of folks in our field — with wisdom a-plenty — with their own stories to be told, and shared. He shared with me Eddy Boas’s book, “I’m Not a Victim, I am a Survivor — how one of our industry’s own endured the Holocaust in a camp with his family, only to survive, rise and build a career in Australia and beyond as a direct marketer. Arthur’s career crossed paths with many such personalities, most of them colorful like himself.

His accomplishments professionally preceded him:

  • He invented the de-duping processes for mail data files, as well as “Me-Books” — that’s personalized print and storytelling coming together;
  • He served as longtime treasurer for the Direct Marketing Club of New York, earning both Silver Apple (1994) and Golden Apple (2013) honors. The company he founded, BMI Global OMS, a family business, was a Silver Apple corporate honoree itself last year;
  • He was a founder of Direct Marketing Days of New York;
  • He cared deeply for the education mission of DMCNY — and our collective support for the future of our field;
  • He developed an order management system first used by the Direct Marketing Association (now Data & Marketing Association) for its conferences; and on and on.

He loved his craft, he loved our field, and loved most of all his family — husband, father, grandfather.  You know when you were invited to a summer outing in Easton, Conn., it was an extended family affair.

Thank you, Arthur, for your warmth, stories and achievements — all of which you so readily shared. We are all the better for it, and — in your spirit — I’m hopeful that any of us can pay it forward at least half as good as you did, with that ever-present smile. That would be remarkable.

Medicare Marketing: 3 Strategies to Address Acquisition Declines

If you’re responsible for Medicare marketing, you are most likely already prepping for the eight weeks in the Fall that have become pivotal to your business strategy. It’s the only time of year that most seniors can make a change to their Medicare Advantage coverage so the noise during this timeframe has built to a crescendo. But beyond market competition, you face another challenge. In recent years the rate of seniors who switched plans has plateaued or outright declined. You need to rethink your approach.

If you’re responsible for Medicare marketing, you are most likely already prepping for the eight weeks in the Fall that have become pivotal to your business strategy. It’s the only time of year that most seniors can make a change to their Medicare Advantage coverage so the noise during this timeframe has built to a crescendo.

For acquisition marketers, the stakes are high and your goals are clear. Entice eligible seniors to switch to your plan during the Annual Enrollment Period (AEP).

But beyond market competition, you face another challenge. In recent years the rate of seniors who switched plans has plateaued or outright declined.

As recently as 2015, 23% of seniors switched plans. Today, it’s a mere 9%. What does a decline like this mean? If you apply the 9% to your marketable universe before calculating your expected return, the math itself will demonstrate the problem.

You need to rethink your approach to Medicare marketing.

But before you move to a new strategy, let’s dig a little deeper into the data. Turns out, the Medicare switchers are largely, if not exclusively confined to those who had an event or interaction that would predispose them to switching during the year.

It could be a customer service issue, a price complaint — or something else entirely — either way, it points to the conclusion of Deft Research that “switchers are not created during the AEP. A combination of consumer experiences and insurer outreach throughout the year creates them.”

How best to react? Embrace the challenge with a proactive approach to change.

3 Strategies to Address Medicare Marketing Declines

1. Rethink seasonality — Only 88% of seniors who had decided to switch plans by the start of AEP, actually switched. Similarly, 90% of those who decided to stay with their same 2017 coverage ultimately did. What does this data imply about seasonality? Although transactions occur during the AEP, the real work –relationships with members are year-round endeavors.

2. Engage with your audience — Embark on a strategy to build or establish a relationship ahead of the transactional AEP. Since today’s 65-year-old was in their mid-40s when the Google search engine launched, they are internet savvy, social and will engage. There are lots of ways to keep them warm, informed and connected.

3. Get to know the “new” senior — Could it be that the new senior audience is misunderstood? Let’s think about that… while “misunderstood” is a term usually reserved for teenagers, today’s Boomers see themselves, and aging very differently. They are dealing with their own version of being underestimated by today’s businesses. The boomer generation is dedicated to changing the way society thinks about retirement and aging. Loyalty is a two-way street with this audience. While the “old” senior citizen may have been known for their loyalty, the new senior is discriminating and looking for value to support their lifestyle — their needs come first!

While switching has been down — shopping behavior has not.  This dynamic leaves the window open for more change to occur, especially if you take their lead and engage the new seniors outside of a transactional and limited approach.

Direct Marketing ‘Discovered,’ at Last

After years of being the poor relative to brand advertising, our direct discipline has finally been discovered by the big brand purveyors — all of those Mad Men who traditionally looked down their noses at any marketing efforts that demanded some form of response and were driven more by results than ego-polishing.

Perhaps we should all now breathe a welcome sigh of relief.

After years of being the poor relative to brand advertising, our direct discipline has finally been discovered by the big brand purveyors — all of those Mad Men who traditionally looked down their noses at any marketing efforts that demanded some form of response and were driven more by results than ego-polishing.

MediaPost’s’ editor Joe Mandese recently wrote an article with the intriguing, if slightly confusing title, “Excuse Me For Being Direct, But So Will You.”

“The most disruptive challenge to conventional media-based, brand-building advertising happened during the earliest days of Internet advertising, when agencies and brand marketers failed to define emerging digital platforms like the Internet — and ultimately, mobile — as a branding medium.

“Instead, direct-response marketers embraced the medium because of its real-time immediacy, access to data to track and ability to modify conversions and sales on-the-fly, and pure ROI efficiency.

“According to some experts, that trend is about to accelerate — as conventional brand marketers throw in the towel altogether and begin leveraging digital media to become direct sellers themselves.”

Conventional brand marketers throwing in the towel … becoming direct sellers themselves: That’s big news for those of us who have spent the better part of our careers trying to explain to those brand giants (and capturing some of all that money they seem to throw around) that while metrics like ‘reach’ and ‘frequency’ certainly have their value, nothing beats affordably capturing the business of new and returning customers and knowing their ROMI, the return on the marketing investment in each one of them. It is surprising they didn’t discover it years ago.

That expression “branding medium” suggests that those marketing initiatives which include a call to action and urge the consumer to “act now” do little or nothing to enhance the brand and often drive general agency art directors berserk, because those calls to action get in the way of their elegant designs.

Some years ago, before there was any significant “subscription” advertising in Brazil, where I now live, the small group who controlled newsstand distribution forbid publishers from advertising for subscriptions on pain of having their publications banned from the newsstands. They reasoned that this advertising would lure magazine buyers away. But when presented with the indisputable fact that offering subscriptions would allow a much greater advertising spend and in the best of all possible worlds, only 5 to 7 percent of the people who saw an ad would reply, while the rest would be positively exposed to the brand and many would purchase at the newsstand, they gave the publishers the go-ahead. Brand and subscription have gone hand-in-hand ever since, to their mutual benefit.

Quoting Publicis Groupe Chief Growth Officer, Rishad Tobaccowala on the reason for the “direct” discovery, Mandese wrote:

“… conventional brand-building media models aren’t working as well as they used to. It’s because big brands are realizing that the only way to have a relationship with and understand their consumers, is to cut out the middlemen and have a relationship with them directly.”

Wow! That’s a quantum leap from the historic paradigm that “direc”’ was, if not a strategy of last resort, well down the list of priorities. Working in big general agencies, how many of us have been asked to prepare 30-minute presentations to be an integral part of the same pitch with the agency’s brand campaign, only to see the time for it reduced to 20 and then 10 minutes or even — as time ran out — being asked to mention the “direct” recommendation while taking the client to the elevator?

Two important factors have principally changed the game:

  1. The emergence of vast amounts of data, the machines to process it and the ability of marketers to creatively use this data for their marketing initiatives;
  2. The growing understanding of CRM, the essential proactive relationship between brand and known customer.

Of course this hasn’t happened overnight. Data-driven marketing gurus have been planting and nourishing these seeds for decades and, as a result, the industry has grown and grown. Lester Wunderman said famously: “Data is an expense. Knowledge is a bargain.” As knowledge has grown and become more widely accessible, brand marketers are being increasingly drawn to it.

Poor relatives no more, “direct” practitioners have finally been “discovered” and have emerged from the shadows.

It feels great in the sunlight.